Of all the Asian film industries, the Koreans are probably the best at making erotic dramas, well, erotic. In comparison, Hong Kong erotic films look more like what not to do during sex (watching Hong Kongers fake sex on screen is like watching a diabetic twitching from seizures), and the Japanese’s idea of sex onscreen invariably involves bondage, torture, abduction, or a combination of all three. With movies like “Summertime”, “The Sweet Sex and Love”, and now “Green Chair”, it becomes less of a question of how does the Koreans do erotic so well, but rather why everyone else can get it so wrong. Haven’t these people ever had sex before?
The first 30 or so minutes of Cheol-su Park’s “Green Chair” is all about sex. The act of having sex, the preparations for sex, and the aftermath of sex. Rinse and repeat. The rest of the film’s 90-minute running time is spent with older woman Mun-hee (Jung Suh, “The Isle”), who is 32, and younger man Hyeon (Ji-ho Shim), who is 19, as they try to understand what’s happening between them. Things are made more difficult in the aftermath of Mun-hee’s stint in prison for having sex with Hyeon, since by Korean law a person under the age of 20 is still a minor. The film is purposefully muddled about when Mun-hee and Hyeon began their relationship, but it’s insinuated that he was old enough to make his own decisions, which would put him at 18 or 19, more than adult age by every other nation’s standards.
With his entry into legal adulthood (via his 20th birthday) fast approaching, Hyeon is content to spend the rest of his time with Mun-hee at her friend’s house. The friend, a single pottery maker, seems to have interest in Hyeon, and there are more than a few sexually ambiguous scenes where the friend makes overt gestures to turn the May/December affair into a love triangle. Fortunately or unfortunately, this subplot never comes to fruition, leaving the friend in the background for the entire film. No surprise, then, that the friend ends up being the two main characters’ primary enabler by supplying them with all their needs, as neither Mun-hee nor Hyeon seem to have a job.
More of a casual walk in the park rather than a jog, “Green Chair” takes its time getting to its 20-minute finale, which includes the parents of Hyeon, Mun-hee’s ex-husband, the cop that arrested Mun-hee, and a number of other people that were involved in one way or another in the lovers’ lives over for dinner. It’s here that all problems are resolved in a manner that, depending on your expectations, is either satisfactory or unbelievably pat. I tend to lean toward the latter, as after 70-odd minutes of watching Hyeon struggle with immaturity and Mun-hee battling insecurity, it’s a little anti-climactic to watch Hyeon suddenly turn into the world’s most mature human being that ever lived.
The above having been said, “Green Chair” is a very well made film, both in terms of direction by Park (whose most well-known film in the West was the dietary thriller “301/302”), and strong performances by the two leads. Actress Jung Suh seems to have made something of a career playing sexually charged characters, here and in the recent thriller “Spider Forest”. No doubt the role requires a certain level of bravery, especially in a Korean film, which may also explain why she’s found herself somewhat trapped in similar roles. The scenes between Suh and the younger Shim in the motel, after Mun-hee’s release from prison, generates the film’s most intense heat.
Although the sex at the motel is at times very explicit, the rest of the film is less so. In fact, there’s really only one or two more sex scenes, and they’re both relatively mild, including a lesson in oral pleasures that’s more funny than erotic. “Green Chair” succeeds at being an interesting movie with an intriguing premise, but the fact that Hyeon is either 18 or 19 when he entered into the affair with the married Mun-hee, not surprisingly, takes away a lot of the film’s edge. Making Hyeon younger, perhaps 16 or 17, might have given the film a grittier surface. As it stands, the film oftentimes feels like a fantasy playing out in either the mind of a jailed Mun-hee or the wet fantasies of Hyeon’s.
“Green Chair” is not really as provocative as you may have heard. While it does broach some interesting subjects, such as Korean culture’s coddling of the young at the expense of the old (Mun-hee’s community service work at an elderly home brings this point home), it’s not as brave as it could have been. Sometimes the film feels like too much of a dream, with the script ignoring obvious concerns, such as the fact that Hyeon is still 19, and Mun-hee, his supposed “rapist” is once again locked away in a motel having wild sex with him. If it was wrong for Mun-hee to have sex with Hyeon before she went to prison, isn’t it still wrong now that she’s out?
Cheol-su Park (director) / Cheol-su Park (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-hong Oh …. Su-jin
Ji-ho Shim …. Hyeon
Jung Suh …. Mun-hee